I'm not sure what it says that when writer/director Patrick Rea e-mailed me about his latest indie horror feature They Wait in the Dark that he specifically noted that he'd written the film's lead character, Amy, with lead Sarah McGuire in mind.
It made me chuckle. It made me cringe. It made me wonder.
I experienced all three of these things rather often throughout They Wait in the Dark, an often dark and dreary vision from the always uncompromising Rea that uncomfortably weaves together horror, fantasy, and real-life to craft a stark tale of the demons that create us, the dreams that we live with, and the demons that we never truly leave behind.
They Wait in the Dark opens with a brief scene, a snippet really, of Amy as a child (Brinklee Wynn) staring at the horror of her mother (Meagan Flynn) having been slaughtered by her father (John Thomson). In the fantasy world, this would mark the end of what had already been an unfathomable childhood for Amy.
Of course, we don't live in a fantasy world.
We catch up to Amy as an adult. She's joined by her adopted child Adrian (Patrick McGee) and the two are homeless and on the run from Amy's seemingly sociopathic ex, Judith (Laurie Catherine Winkel). With nowhere else to go, Amy ends up at her long abandoned childhood home. It's a place where she can seemingly hide from Judith, though as They Wait in the Dark progresses it becomes increasingly clear that it's nearly impossible to hide from all your demons.
If you know me at all, then you already know of my deep appreciation for the ways in which indie horror helped me transform my own demons as a child and young adult. I used to devour films just like They Wait in the Dark, dark and dreary films that immersed themselves in the darkest corners of real life and real tragedy and demons both real and imagined. These films, films just like They Wait in the Dark, transformed me into something resembling a decent human being.
Changed, but never entirely.
They Wait in the Dark is a stark film, a supernatural horror film grounded within the abusive cycle and generational trauma. The film benefits from McGuire's hypnotic performance as Amy, a woman who is both exactly what we see and always a little bit more. McGuire makes sure that we sympathize with Amy, though we're never 100% sure if we should.
I was just as captivated by Laurie Catherine Winkel's turn as Judith, initially not much more than your usual badass abusive spouse before she becomes much more complex and much more ambiguous. Winkel doesn't so much make us sympathize with Judith, though her layered performance largely keeps us from hating her.
The film's secret weapon may very well be young Patrick McGee, a sliver of light in an oh so dark film. McGee's Adrian makes us hold on even when They Wait in the Dark becomes almost impossibly grim. Both achingly vulnerable, as a child should be, and remarkably strong, McGee's Adrian is a vision to behold from beginning to end.
Shot almost entirely in Kansas City, this micro-budgeted indie horror project takes some twists and turns along the way, some expected and some not so much. They Wait in the Dark isn't the kind of horror film you find at your local multiplex, though Rea has assembled quite the production team including his usual D.P. Hanuman Brown-Eagle whose lensing here magnificently balances the film's off-kilter domestic atmosphere and the constant aura of supernatural possession. Original music by Ben Benefield amps up the film's intimacy and otherworldly menace and Madeline Ingram's costume design for the film amplifies our own sense of who these characters have been, who they are, and who they are destined to become.
They Wait in the Dark isn't a film for everyone. Dark and uncompromising, They Wait in the Dark can also be slow and patient and thoughtful. They Wait in the Dark is as much about the psychology of horror as the physical manifestation of it. It's also, I'd dare say, as much about the fact that one day, maybe just maybe, we'll choose differently than our demons have foretold and our demons will become playthings.
Picked up by indie distributor 1091 Pictures for a digital and VOD release, They Wait in the Dark is available now through your major digital and streaming platforms.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic